Universal 11/9-11/13

Hi folks, I just came back from a short FL vacation with my brother last week spending three days at UO while staying at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort. There must be some unwritten code for enthusiasts to visit Orlando in November as Iceman3 already started a thread with similar info and experiences. I apologize if it feels like you’ve experienced this TR already but I’ll try to change it up if I can.

I last went to UO in November 2012 and realized that a fair number of new attractions have been installed since that time and it would be worthwhile to return to the park. I also opted to stay on-resort this time as Cabana Bay struck a chord with me in its retro décor and theme and the price was much more palatable compared to the other three luxury hotels.

The hotel looked and smelled like new and the quality of the furnishings and beds were very nice albeit simple which was fine. The wifi at the hotel was free so long as you didn’t need to connect more than 5 devices or wanted a higher speed connection. This wasn’t necessary as Netflix streamed just fine on my tablet. The food court offerings were also varied and I thought a step above basic cafeteria-type food with commensurate prices. The shuttle buses to the parks were very timely and the early entry hour was useful in experiencing Diagon Alley, Transformers, and Despicable Me with small to nonexistent lines.

I selected mid-November to visit to take advantage of Veteran’s Day as a government holiday (I work for the State of MI) and also the good odds that the lines in general would be shorter than average due to being the off-season and I wasn’t disappointed. I think the longest we waited was about 15 minutes for one of the theater shows (before pre-shows). The actual 3D rides and coasters were only about 5-15 minutes and even shorter if we took advantage of single rider lines. As testament to this, I received a one-time express pass for experiencing a breakdown mid-ride on Transformers and I never actually used it. Still, this was a generous and unnecessary gesture on behalf of Universal.

Speaking of which, Transformers was a very nice addition to the Studios park and I thought it was just as impressive as the Spiderman ride at IOA. I would even go so far as to say that I appreciated the greater number of HD screens on this attraction versus Spidey although the latter’s larger footprint allowed for more props and practical effects. I think the nature of large-scale robots fighting above and around you is very conducive to a theme park ride (opinions may vary as a motion picture). Both of these rides are tremendous technical achievements IMO and rate as ‘can’t miss’ whenever one visits the UO parks. The rides typically have high capacity operations although two of my four rides on Transformers during my visit had technical breakdowns which made me curious as to if the elevators (that I didn’t even notice during the ride) that are part of the attraction’s layout are more liable to interrupt operations.

The other new highlight was obviously Diagon Alley which lived up to the high standards set with the first HP section at IOA. I loved the much more open spaces that the London-themed area was able to utilize and reduced the slightly claustrophobic crowds that Hogsmeade could create at times. The level of detail in all of the gift shops and snack shops and outside facades was astounding especially if you were a fan of the books or movies (or both) like myself. I love that Universal had the guts to create a real Knockturn Alley as I’m not sure if Disney would have done the same thing had they secured the theme park rights to HP due to its ‘dark side’ nature.

The new Gringotts Bank-themed attraction was also very impressive in detail with theming and technology; both in the queue and the ride itself. Gringotts is in a similar vein as Transformers and Spiderman which is great as the Forbidden Journey attraction at IOA makes me slightly nauseous due to being shaken rather well by the robotic arms that are used as the ride vehicles. I can see where there was more potential for mechanical breakdowns (I only endured one out of four rides) due to the large number of moving parts since the trains on the coaster track were also using electronic rotating bases along with tilt-track mechanisms and the launch towards the end of the ride.

I felt that the length of the ride was fine as the story was told in the time needed and I was not disappointed at all that it wasn’t more of a roller coaster-type experience ala Revenge of the Mummy. I would argue that Gringotts was 70/30 as the ratio for dark ride-to-coaster while the inverse would be true of Mummy. The ride was definitely an e-ticket attraction as Disneyphiles might say and when Universal gets the kinks worked out, this ride will also be a capacity boss.

The Hogwarts Express was the other significant addition to UO and it was also quite well done. The train itself was very well designed in regards to theming with each of the internal compartments (seating up to 8 passengers) having a video screen in place of an outside window and fogged windows to the passenger aisle way. The trains operated quite efficiently with two ‘trains’ running simultaneously between IOA and USO in opposing directions.

Even more impressive to me was the scale and differences with the stations at each end of the line. Kings Cross Station in London looked like an authentic contemporary European train station while the station at Hogsmeade was very Gothic and ‘quaint’-looking for lack of a better word. Kings Cross was much larger in scale than Hogsmeade station (due to being shoehorned into the remaining space at IOA near HP) and also had the added benefit of being air-conditioned. To rest the fears of the long-brewing enthusiast debate over how the Hogwarts Express was going to be implemented, I didn’t see any crying families at either station who were denied access to the train. No one appeared to be so frugal or poor that they would/could not purchase a park-to-park ticket in order to save maybe $15/20 above the price of a one park ticket. This whole situation was truly a case of much ado about nothing.

In much the same way, the Hulk coaster confirmed my suspicions that the restraints on the new Rougarou at CP will be fine as I didn’t bang my head at all and Hulk is a larger ride with bigger elements. However, I will say that Universal is going a little overboard with their no loose articles policy. The ride crews were being really annoying/creepy in eyeing up your pants pockets for any bulges even if an article was in a sealed cargo pocket. I understand that the lockers are “free” i.e. bundled in ticket price like pop at Holiday World but this was an unnecessary inconvenience IMO. These wonderful free lockers were also a pain in that you had to wait in a line to get access to one and then had to use a very clunky software program from 1999 along with a glitchy fingerprint scanner to access and reopen your assigned locker. End rant.

Overall, Universal really enhanced the Studios park and made it much more equal in terms of attractions and entertainment options when compared to IOA. I know that I spent my time almost equally between both parks on this trip when compared to two years ago. It looks like the rumored King Kong attraction was well on its way in the Jurassic Park area of IOA which seems appropriate due to all of the love that the Studios park has received over the past three years with Hollywood RRR, Despicable Me, Springfield, Transformers, and Diagon Alley.

Thanks for reading everyone.

delan's avatar

Awesome trip report. I agree on the who loose articles thing. I found it most annoying on HRRR as that area is so congested. There is always a herd in front of the entrance as people try to figure out what line they should enter. The first time I rode after they implemented this policy, I just walked away. As much as I like listening to Vogue (secret code #310) it just wasn't worth the hassle.

Great trip report. It was nice to see someone else's perspective on the park. I had no idea actual elevators are used in Transformers. It still doesn't change my perspective of disliking the ride but the implementation is cool. We didn't go on Minions at all. It always seemed to have a massive line. Is it done just like Spiderman?

I believe I forgot to mention how much I hate their loose article policy. Sometimes the locker placement made the walkways so narrow you were constantly elbowing people. I keep loose articles in sealed cargo pockets so they wouldn't fall out.

I didn't realize they put new restraints on Hulk. That would probably explain why it felt so much smoother. I would have ridden it multiple times because I love that first inversion but I didn't feel like making my wife wait longer than she already was for me to get off.

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